Racing in a man’s world: Sandra shares her story
Johannesburg - When it comes to motorsport, the landscape remains, arguably, male-dominated, but there are several females who fight the odds to find themselves in the proverbial hot seat.
The W Series, which concluded last month, is looking to promote women in motorsport globally, but we wanted to find out what it’s like for a female in the South African world of racing.
Last week we caught up with local maverick Sandra Labuschagne-Jonck to find out how she got into motorsport, what keeps her going and how she’d like to see her racing career evolve.
What inspired you to get involved in racing?
My father is one of my greatest inspirations and a true ambassador of our sport. He has been involved in motorsport for the past 35 years and it is due to him that I fell in love with motorsport at a very young age.
I was given my first chance at 18 in the co-pilot seat by special vehicle champion Giel Nel and I was hooked.
Which racing drivers do you draw your fire from?
This is a tough question. The most pertinent female athlete that comes to mind is Jutta Kleinschmidt.
I recall being glued to my television in 2001, when she became the first and only female to win the Dakar Rally. I was fortunate to meet her as well as rally legend Michelle Mouton, who I have great admiration for. They have proven that women possess the capabilities and talent to be successful in a male-dominated sport.
If you could pick two dream co-drivers (and just one car)?
I have great admiration for Elvene Coetzee-Vonk, who has won the South African Rally Championship twice as a co-pilot. She is a great motivator with a never-give-up attitude.
I really enjoy racing with my current co-pilot (and husband) Jaco Jonck. We have a great dynamic in the car.
Although I love driving the Total Agri Porter, I would really want to drive the South African-built Toyota Gazoo Hilux.
How do you keep yourself motivated between races?
My passion for motorsport is my biggest motivator. There is no better feeling than being in the car, hearing the loud roar of a V8 engine, achieving top speeds or drifting around corners. The adrenaline rush is unreal.
I am inspired by people and the sacrifices they make. When I see what challenges they have to overcome, I realise how fortunate I am to be doing what I love.
Could you describe some of the challenges you face as a female racing driver?
I think a big challenge is still the biased opinion that good drivers are only male. Woman have made great strides in motorsport, but the stigma of motorsport being a male-dominated sport is still rife. Women are easily labelled non-technical with no mechanical skill. I pride myself on my knowledge of the mechanical workings of the car and really enjoy the longer endurance events that challenge the body and mind. I would love to see more women given opportunities.
So, you encourage more females to jump into local motorsport?
Without a doubt. I hope that my participation will encourage more women to get involved. Women face so many challenges in society and need to rise above adversity. The sport has given me so much. I have had the opportunity to travel and experience motorsport across the world. It has taught me to not give up and to pursue your passion. The excessive cost of racing competitively is a big challenge, though. In this current economic climate, it is challenging to find a sponsor. We are very fortunate that Total South Africa has placed their trust in the Total Agri Racing Team with a female driver this year.
How do you spend downtime between races?
I am a vet by profession and enjoy spending time as close to nature as possible. We are an active family that enjoys the outdoors. I really enjoy scuba diving or hitting the trails on my mountain bike.
Finally, what has been your greatest (motorsport) achievement so far, and how do you want to evolve?
In 2016, I was selected for the FIA Women in Motorsport development programme headed by Kleinschmidt and Mouton, a first of its kind. This gave me the opportunity to compare international racing to South African local talent and conditions. After being named one of the best co-pilots at the selection camp I had the privilege to participate in a few international events.
I participated in the Italian Baja, Portugal Baja and Sealine Desert race in Qatar to name a few highlights. It was a great learning opportunity and I was proud to receive my Protea colours in motorsport for cross country racing the same year.
Another highlight was winning the Special Vehicle Championship in 2018 as a co-pilot with my dad. It was by no means a perfect season, but we managed to persevere and win the title. It was a very special moment between father and daughter.
This year, I partnered with Total Agri Racing Team and switched to the driver seat. This partnership is a first in the history of South African cross country racing for a female driver and hopefully inspires promoting women in motorsport.